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When the abridgement comatose in 2008, millions of Americans absent their jobs. Applications for aliment stamps soared. So did appearance at emergency aliment providers—soup kitchens and aliment pantries—that advice the estimated 50 actor people, alive and non-working, who can’t allow abundant advantage to get through the month.

Unlike in accomplished bread-and-er downturns, though, the abundance rolls about budged. Area 15 years ago 68 percent of poor Americans accustomed banknote via Temporary Abetment to Beggared Families (as abundance was clearly renamed in 1996), today abandoned 27 percent of Americans with incomes low abundant to authorize for banknote allowances accept them. As the New York Times’ Jason DeParle discussed in a front-page commodity beforehand this year, the consistent abundance gap has larboard at atomic 4 actor families with neither jobs nor banknote aid.

The admeasurement of the abundance gap, however, varies broadly from accompaniment to state. In states like California and Maine, which accept focused on accepting their poor citizens into jobs programs, about two-thirds of those adequate still accept welfare. On the adverse end of the spectrum is Georgia, which over the accomplished decade has set itself up as the affiche adolescent for the advancing war on welfare. Alike as unemployment has soared to 9 percent and 300,000 Georgia families now alive beneath the abjection line—50 percent academy than in 2000, for a abjection bulk that now ranks sixth in the nation—the cardinal accepting banknote allowances has all but evaporated: Abandoned a little over 19,000 families accepting TANF remain, all but 3,400 of which were cases involving accouchement only. That’s beneath than 7 percent, authoritative Georgia one of the toughest places in the nation to get abundance assistance.

What’s Georgia’s secret? According to government documents, interviews with poor Georgians, and those who assignment with them, it’s a simple one: Combine an all-Republican accompaniment government out to accomplish a name for itself as boxy on freeloaders; a accompaniment abundance abettor so afire about slashing the rolls that workers say she handed out Aught bonbon confined to accent her ambition of aught welfare; and federal rules that, behindhand of who’s in the White House, accord states the elbowroom to use the 1996 law’s claim for “work activities”—the aforementioned accouterment that Republicans accept answerable President Obama wants to unfairly baptize down—to bang the aperture in the face of the state’s neediest.

What this has created is a acreage that abundance forgot, area a accumulating of clandestine charities attempt to ample the consistent holes. For the Atlanta Association Aliment Bank, that bureau sending out added than 3 actor pounds of canned goods, bread, and added advantage anniversary ages to churches in and about Atlanta to advice augment the state’s growing cardinal of poor and near-poor. The aliment bank’s agents additionally helps align for chargeless tax basal services, and helps the city’s poor administer for aliment stamps and Medicaid. One affair they don’t discuss, though, is welfare. “We don’t allocution about TANF anymore,” says aliment coffer advancement and apprenticeship administrator Laura Lester. “We don’t alike accelerate anybody in to apply, because there’s aloof no point.”

It’s a accompaniment of diplomacy that’s larboard an accretion cardinal of Georgians with boilerplate to turn. Teresa, a distinct mom of a 2-year-old alive in a calm abandon shelter, tells of how she bankrupt bottomward and activated for banknote allowances afterwards beat an calumniating relationship—only to be chastised by accompaniment abundance admiral who asked, “Wouldn’t you rather work?” Eventually, Teresa says, “I was sitting there crying—I aloof didn’t apperceive what abroad to do. I said, you’ve gone from absolution bodies sit on their base and aggregate money to the absolute adverse of that.”

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. In the end, she was abandoned for declining to ample out her paperwork correctly.

One of the accepted misconceptions about abundance ameliorate is that already Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton had acclimatized their admirable arrangement aback in 1996, a new administration was put in place: If you won’t assignment (or at atomic attending for work), you’ll no best get a government check. In fact, though, abundance ameliorate is beneath a distinct law than 50 abstracted experiments, as Washington provided states with a ample framework beneath which they are chargeless to set their own rules on time limits, admission levels, and assignment requirements for those gluttonous help.

Immediately afterwards the new law was put in place, the abundance rolls plunged by two-thirds—though no one could say for assertive whether this was because bodies were abrogation the rolls for jobs or abandoned biconcave added into poverty. And admitting the accelerate eased a bit nationally afterwards the abridgement cooled about 2001, the abundance gap—the cardinal of bodies poor abundant to accept allowances who weren’t absolutely accepting them—still amounted to about two-thirds of those beneath the abjection line.

Photo from Georgia accompaniment website.

In Georgia, the cardinal of Georgians accepting abundance had collapsed off at about 54,000 families—roughly 30 percent of poor Georgians—by 2004. It was in that year that Gov. Sonny Perdue, the state’s aboriginal Republican governor aback Reconstruction, assassin a new abettor to arch Georgia’s Administration of Human Services. Beverly “B.J.” Walker, a 54-year-old atramentous woman from Chicago, had been an abstruse academy class adviser best accepted as the wife of Chicago’s airport abettor aback Republicans chose her to run a pilot activity in 1995 to accumulate accompaniment government services. Anon she rose to run Chicago’s abundance programs as well.

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Walker bound acquired a acceptability for a get-tough attitude adjoin abundance recipients that rivaled added states. “What B.J. emphasized was that everybody who can work, should work,” says Joseph Antolin, who was an Illinois accompaniment abundance official aback Walker accustomed on the scene.

What that meant was that those who wouldn’t work—or preferred, say, to go aback to academy to admission their affairs of landing a adequate job—would be bound pushed off the rolls. One of her aboriginal steps, Antolin recalls, was to shoot bottomward affairs to aggrandize GED classes and abstruse academy courses for the poor. Her philosophy, he says, was “you about accept to bandy them in the basin and let them apprentice how to swim.” Thanks in allotment to Walker’s influence, Illinois’ abundance rolls plunged from added than 200,000 in 1996 to 95,000 aback she ancient for a agnate job in Chicago burghal government three years later.

Once Walker accustomed in Georgia, abjection experts there say she set out to ysis the state’s TANF affairs with a distinct goal: not aloof accepting bodies into jobs, but befitting them from accepting allowances by any bureau necessary. New applicants anon begin themselves actuality handed flyers emblazoned with slogans like “TANF is not adequate abundant for any family,” “TANF = assignment now,” and “We accept abundance is not the best advantage for your family.”

“Local offices were absolutely demography a lot of accomplish to dissuade bodies from applying—or already they had applied, they were accomplishing things to accomplish the action absolutely bulky and difficult,” recalls Allison Smith of the Georgia Coalition Adjoin Calm Violence, whose appointment began documenting adverse letters of abundance applicants actuality beat from applying for allowances by any and all bureau necessary: “Making them go through 60 job searches a week, or appear to 8 orientations.” One woman in her seventh ages of abundance was ordered to booty a waitressing job that would crave her to be on her anxiety all day. Addition was told that if she activated for TANF while alive in a apartment her accouchement would be taken away. Smith recalls, “Some of the actuality that was said to individuals was appealing awful—’If you can’t acquisition a job, we’ll accept you blasting bits at the dog pound.’ “

“They were aggravating to accomplish me feel bad that I was aggravating to get money,” says Teresa of her acquaintance applying for benefits. “They told me that taxpayers are advantageous for it—I acclimated to pay my taxes, you know?” Kelda O’Neal, a adolescent grandmother currently caring for an continued ancestors of 15 in her DeKalb Canton home, had a agnate experience. “They amusement you like you’re in a bastille facility,” she complains of her assorted trips to the DeKalb Canton abundance centermost to try to administer for benefits. “You really, absolutely t it aggravating to get TANF. I’ve heard women adage they can go and assuredly get a job, and afore they can get that aboriginal pay, they cut ’em off.”

O’Neal herself advanced accustomed TANF, she says, until her husband—a above barter disciplinarian who’d suffered a brainy breakdown afterwards his ancestor died and one of his daughters was murdered—applied for affliction allowances and was told that according to Georgia accompaniment law, he’d charge to appear 60 to 90 canicule of a accompaniment assignment affairs while cat-and-mouse for those allowances to arrive. She says that aback he absent one of his appointments—among his abounding brainy bloom issues, he suffers from agoraphobia—the accompaniment concluded her $133 in annual benefits.

Missed accessories are one accepted acumen for abandoned TANF applications in Georgia. Abortion to accommodated accompaniment job chase rules—which crave 30 canicule of job chase afore a aboriginal ysis will be cut—is another. Teresa says she was told she’d accept to book a almanac of 24 job applications a anniversary in adjustment to accept her abundance appliance processed. “That was absolutely hard, because I couldn’t acquisition any places that were hiring,” she says. She was accustomed for benefits, but abandoned so continued as she performed 24 hours a anniversary of association service, additional 12 hours of job search, which she struggled to do during the bound computer time accessible at the calm abandon shelter. Eventually, she had her allowances cut off for declining to appropriately almanac the buzz numbers of her job contacts.

Teresa afterwards landed a job at a Bi-Lo grocery store, and gave up on applying for government aid altogether. But abounding calm abandon survivors aren’t so lucky, says Smith: “A lot of association we apperceive are blockage in their calumniating relationships longer, or returning. We apperceive from ysis that banking apropos are apparently the No. 1 acumen why victims don’t leave, or go back. Usually TANF will be a dispatch stone, and now that it’s going, bodies are accepting to accomplish adamantine choices.”

The Georgia Administration of Human Casework has continued insisted that it’s not authoritative a concerted accomplishment to abjure benefits. (Walker ancient in 2011, but the behavior she instituted still abundantly abide in place.) Indeed, there’s annihilation in accounting accompaniment guidelines cogent workers to about-face applicants away. But abounding bounded and civic abundance experts say that’s not unexpected.

“I could never acquisition annihilation from the accompaniment office—and you won’t,” says Liz Schott, a chief adolescent with the D.C.-based Centermost on Annual and Action Priorities who has advised abundance behavior in several states. “I anticipate they got the message, and they did anything, whatever they bare to do to accomplish abiding cipher got on.”

One of these accepted measures, says Smith, complex Aught bonbon bars. Chief accompaniment DHS admiral handed out the bonbon confined to agents as a not-so-subtle admonition that the ambition was to accept no one accepting welfare. “That was the goal, workers were cogent us. The bulletin was ‘zero TANF.’ ” (A DHS agent says the accompaniment “has no information” on the administration of bonbon confined by the department.)

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Georgia’s abundance rolls plunged afresh afterwards Walker’s arrival, with added than 60 percent of those absolute bottomward off welfare. Abundant of the bead was the aftereffect of bodies not actuality able to get through the advanced door: A abstraction by Schott begin that the allotment of abundance applications that were accustomed fell from 40 to 20 percent beneath Walker’s tenure, and two-thirds of all denials were due to either abandonment of applications or abortion to complete appliance procedures.

As for accepting Georgia’s poor aback to work—the apparent ambition of abundance reform—the numbers are ogously unpromising. Georgia has bragged about its ascent “work participation” rate—a key metric set bottomward by Congress to ensure that states followed federal assignment rules by insisting that at atomic bisected of abundance recipients were affianced in “work activities,” which can accommodate annihilation from absolute application to an alive chase for a job. Yet the Centermost on Annual and Action Priorities begin that far beneath Georgians alive in abjection were affianced in “work activities” beneath Walker; rather, the allotment was abandoned up because the denominator—the cardinal of bodies accepting banknote aid—had plummeted.

Asked if accepting about one in 100 of the state’s poor accepting banknote is an adequate result, accompaniment TANF action administrator Anne Carter replies, “I don’t apperceive that that’s a yes-or-no question.” The accompaniment consistently evaluates whether applicants are adequate beneath federal guidelines, she says, and “our abandonment bulk dictates whether they appetite to accede with the program, or they don’t.” She adds that the accompaniment offers job seekers advice accepting to job interviews, such as a new car array or alteration passes, and now lets them conduct job searches at home—provided, of course, that they accept a computer with Internet access.

As for what’s happened to the hundreds of bags who’ve larboard abundance or never fabricated it on, no one is absolutely sure: The accompaniment conducted its aftermost “leaver study” of those abandonment the rolls in 2006—after that, explains Carter, the architect retired and was never replaced. DHS abstracts announce that 17.5 percent of applicants abjure afterwards a case is opened, but the bureau doesn’t abridge statewide letters on how abounding acquisition jobs—or on how abounding accord up during the one-month cat-and-mouse aeon afore a case is opened. And alike then, the allegation were absolutely mixed: While about 70 percent of those who larboard abundance were active during their aboriginal year afterwards abrogation TANF, added than 80 percent remained beneath the federal abjection level. The one affair that was allowance Georgia’s poor, acclaimed the study, was added adolescent affliction abetment that was accustomed by the accompaniment in 2005 to animate bodies to leave TANF for employment—a affairs now imperiled by a abridgement of accompaniment funds.

Cassie, a distinct mom in the western Atlanta suburb of Austell, is one of those who accept been angry abroad for adolescent affliction abetment because the accompaniment ran out of money. Afterwards her accomplice skipped boondocks aback he abstruse their son had a abiding claret disorder—”He said, ‘You’re activity to accept to eventually accelerate me to adolescent abutment court, and aback you do that I never appetite to see y’all again’ “—Cassie begin herself bamboozlement accouterment as a nursing abettor while managing her son’s common hospital visits. She activated for TANF, abandoned to be affected to bead out of academy for her bulk as an ultrasound sonographer, she says, in adjustment to accept time for the arduous job chase process.*

As her 2-year-old son scampers about a abandoned appointment at the Sweetwater Valley Association Action Mission Affairs area she’s appear to seek some help, Cassie explains that—like about 2 actor added Georgians, about 20 percent of the state—she receives federal aliment brand benefits, which advice put advantage on the table. But they won’t pay for non-food items, which is why she’s angry up at this clandestine alms in burghal Cobb Canton in chase of diapers.

Household aliment are a connected attempt for the poor in the absence of banknote benefits, addendum the charity’s affairs administrator Carla Pierce, pointing to the stockpiles of bactericide and added items lining the mission’s buffet shelves. (No diapers today, though; Cassie and her son go home empty-handed.) “Formula and diapers change a ancestors annual in a second.”

Even for those advantageous few who do administer to accept TANF, the added bare admission levels—which haven’t been aloft in Georgia aback 1996, arch to a 30 percent bead in spending ability about to inflation—are hardly affair people’s best basal needs.”Two hundred and thirty-five dollars, what the hell is that declared to pay?” wonders Renea Buck, a Savannah grandmother caring for her daughter’s two children. Buck afresh fought her way assimilate TANF with the advice of a bounded antipoverty group, Step Up Savannah. “I see these bodies on TV, and they say bodies are aloof alive off the abundance system. There ability be a lot of bodies on aliment stamps because they charge help. And they ability accept Medicaid so their kids can accept medical. But they’re crazy if anybody’s bribery the abuse arrangement for that $235 a month.”

Private aid groups like the Association Action Mission Affairs accept approved to ample the gap with “emergency aid”—basically a clandestine abundance admission for those beneath 125 percent of the abjection line—but in a canton that appearance 16 percent unemployment and area 1,600 schoolkids are homeless, they now about-face abroad bisected of all applicants, says Pierce. The cardinal of bodies advancing to her alignment for advice has tripled in the aftermost bristles years, she notes.

“These days, it seems like about anybody needs banking aid for either hire or added expenses,” Pierce sighs. “Everyone who walks through that aperture has a accepted emergency.”

Despite its abbreviating abundance rolls, the accompaniment of Georgia is still allotted $330 actor a year in federal money via the TANF block admission program. But there are signs that beneath and beneath of it absolutely makes it to the state’s poor.

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Instead, according to a September 2012 abstraction by the nonprofit Georgia Annual & Action Institute, the accompaniment has begin means to use TANF money to cardboard over added affairs budgets, with added than bisected of Georgia’s abundance funds actuality siphoned off to pay for the state’s altered adolescent abundance program. This maneuver, which is accustomed beneath federal law, has finer adored the accompaniment hundreds of millions of dollars that it would contrarily accept to awning with tax revenues.

“There was all this added federal money sitting around,” explains Clare Richie, a action yst at the institute, “so it was accessible to use that to ample added holes.” (A accompaniment DHS agent responded that because TANF is a federal block grant, “this allows accompaniment policymakers to use TANF funds in means that fit both Georgia’s affairs needs and the altered needs of added states.”)

To ensure that states didn’t aloof banknote their federal TANF checks after spending annihilation on the poor, Congress added addition requirement, the alleged “maintenance of effort” requirements that would cut funds to states that didn’t allot abundant money to anti-poverty programs. Beforehand this year, a abstraction by the federal General Accountability Appointment appear that Georgia was counting clandestine spending by nonprofit aliment banks and agnate clandestine charities to annual for about bisected of the state’s own appropriate abundance spending targets—more than bifold the allotment of about any added state.

According to abjection experts, the way that the 1996 law afflicted the mechanics of federal abundance spending is a big acumen why abounding states accept been acceptable with aliment stamps—Georgia afresh began acceptance association to administer for aliment aid online, with abandoned a blast ysis interview—while arise bottomward on banknote assistance. Aliment stamps abide a federal entitlement, acceptation if added bodies in your accompaniment get aliment stamps, Washington foots the bill. But if added bodies get TANF, that comes out of a collapsed bulk of federal banknote that your accompaniment gets to advice those in need—creating a huge allurement to carve the rolls and carry off the money for added uses.

It’s a anatomy of artistic bookkeeping, says Democratic accompaniment adumbrative and boyhood baton Stacey Abrams, that’s abnormally adorable to a accompaniment like Georgia, which appearance not aloof a Republican-controlled accompaniment abode and governor’s appointment but an awfully aerial cardinal of accompaniment leaders who accord to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the bourgeois action accumulation that has afresh admiring absorption for drafting hundreds of bills on account of accumulated lobbyists. Georgia, she says, was a absolute bout for those attractive to annihilate the abundance rolls, forth with a Republican-controlled assembly that takes its cues from an absorption accumulation like ALEC—”We accept become a class for their policies.”

More than that, though, she says that conservatives in Georgia accept “a 18-carat apprehension of the amusing abundance system, and a confounding of how it operates,” area it’s affected that anyone requesting government aid charge be a biologic user or contrarily shiftless. This allows accompaniment ideologues, she says, to pit the beggared adjoin one addition in what she calls a “sort of Hunger Games of the poor,” area the alive poor are encouraged to attending aloft abundance spending as a cesspool on their own finances. ” ‘I’m poor because you took my money’—that’s the activating that they set up.”

Georgia is hardly abandoned in its attempts to carve the already bare abundance rolls: Wyoming, Texas, and Idaho all avowal welfare-to-poverty ratios beneath Georgia’s 7 percent. And the two states that beat Georgia’s 19 percent abjection rate, Louisiana and Mississippi, are about advanced of it in abundance rates, at 9 and 10 percent of families beneath the abjection line, respectively. Meanwhile, addendum Schott, the civic abundance expert, the accomplished year has apparent Ohio advance bodies off abundance by arty austere sanctions for actionable any rules, while Washington booted off 6,000 bodies in one ages by removing a time-limits absolution for those in adequate standing.

There are a scattering of states that accept airy the trend. California and Maine both accommodate abundance allowances to added than 65 percent of their poor residents. Illinois, which saw a agnate bead in abundance caseloads to Georgia’s during Walker’s tenure, afresh eased cat-and-mouse banned and added rules, seeing abundance applications ascend as a result. And added states may administer for the Obama administration’s action of waivers to get out of austere assignment rules. Yet there’s little achievement of any of these measures demography basis in states like Georgia. In fact, the accompaniment afresh added a new hurdle: Pending a cloister challenge, abundance applicants will anon be affected to booty a biologic ysis aural 48 hours of applying—for a $17, non-refundable fee.

It shouldn’t be this way, says O’Neal, the adolescent grandmother, as she prepares to book TANF paperwork yet afresh for her daughter, hopefully this time with a bigger result. “All of these bodies advancing bottomward actuality are not bodies aloof attractive for handouts,” she says. “You got a lot of bodies who accept formed adamantine appealing abundant all their lives and accept paid taxes. And now they’re in need, and they can’t get what they need. And it’s so sad.”

This commodity was appear in affiliation with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

*Correction, Dec. 26, 2012: This commodity originally declared that Cassie was belief to be a ultrasound stenographer. She was belief to be an ultrasound sonographer.

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